Interview with JR, Shepard Fairey and Pedro AlonzoJuxtapoz // Wednesday, 28 Jul 2010
In the interview the three artists discuss their part in Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape, now on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s downtown Jacobs Building location.
The comprehensive exhibit features a range of 20 artists from 10 countries that are linked together by how their work addresses urban issues -- Akay (Sweden), Banksy (U.K.), Blu (Italy), Mark Bradford (U.S.), William Cordova (U.S.), Date Farmers (U.S.), Stephan Doitschinoff [CALMA] (Brazil), Dr. Lakra (Mexico), Dzine (Puerto Rico), David Ellis (U.S.), FAILE (Canada), Shepard Fairey (U.S.), Invader (France), JR (France), Barry McGee (U.S.), Ryan McGinness (U.S.), Moris (Mexico), Os Gemeos (Brazil), Swoon (U.S.), and Vhils (Portugal).
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host of ‘These Days’ on KPBS): Now, Pedro, this "Viva la Revolución” is an exhibit of street art. Tell us, what’s the difference between street art and graffiti?
ALONZO: Well, the main difference is that street art, the artists are really trying to speak to the public. The images, you know, the visually arresting images, it’s about a dialogue, whereas graffiti is much more about an insular challenge between graffiti artists. It’s about the process of repeating your tag over and over again in a stylized fashion.
CAVANAUGH: So give us a sense of the history of street art as opposed to graffiti or tagging, as you say. Is someone like Keith Haring or Samo, Michel – Jean-Michel…
CAVANAUGH: …representative of a certain era of street art?
ALONZO: Well, I – In my opinion, it really starts with Haring. I think Haring is one of the artists who began to make – who challenged the arts establishment by saying, hey, I’m not just interested in a couple of curators and a couple of collectors. I want the world to appreciate my art. And many of the things that he initiated, the model he established in his practice, is something that I’ve seen pop up with other artists. But I think the biggest difference between that generation, Basquiat and Haring, and this generation is that the internet didn’t exist. So these artists were much more dependent on the arts establishment in order to function and to thrive. With street art, they were – The internet allowed them to circumvent the gallery system and create their own scene. So that’s largely why street art has gone ignored for so long, is because it doesn’t cater to the art establishment in any way. There are very few curators out there that, you know, who know who these artists are or who kind of really care. And it was a real effort on my part to go out and meet these guys and to earn their trust and, in some cases, convince them to do a show. And in many cases, these artists were criticized for going into the museum. The first show I did called “Spank the Monkey,” there was a lot of chatter on the – that was in England. There was a lot of chatter on the internet about, you know, how dare this old guy—I’m not really that old—but this old guy, you know, bring this into the white cube, you know. This should be out in the street. And, you know, I didn’t force the artists.
CAVANAUGH: The white cube, the gallery.
ALONZO: The white cube, exactly.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, my God. And, Shepard, I’d like you to weigh in on this. What do you think the internet has done to change street art?
FAIREY: Well, it’s really allowed people all over the world to see what other artists are doing and, I think, built a great support network. It also means that you can document about five spots from good angles and become a street art celebrity really quickly. But, you know, there’s good and bad with the internet. But I think the most important thing is what Pedro’s talking about, being able to have a website to share your work and to maybe, you know, sell posters or tee shirts, something to support your practice. I mean, street art costs money, it doesn’t make money. You lose money doing it but – so before the internet, you would have to either work a menial job or basically somehow get in – into a gallery and really embrace that system. And that’s something I never really wanted to do. I’m a populist. I wanted my work to be everywhere so doing street art and bypassing all of the bureaucracy of the gallery world was great, and then you take it to another level of exposure through the internet because that’s – the internet’s incredibly democratic, so I think it’s good for that reason.
CAVANAUGH: And, JR, does the internet give you more control over the work that you choose to do and how you get it seen?
JR: You know, in the past years, I’ve been working in places where it’s hard to reach sometimes like the favelas of Cambodia, India or places in Africa. And the internet makes me share that work with other persons because that work was directed for the people out there because it was their own photos. So it was for the local community but the internet allowed other people who maybe would not take the step to go and take the plane and go and visit this place to at least have a first new look over this place, have another eyes through the art and then maybe want to go and see by themselves.
Read the fully transcribed interview at www.kpbs.org/news